Australia is Having a Difficult Time Managing its Game Censorship Rules

The most notable game within these four is DayZ, the zombie survival game. Ironically, the game was available on digital storefronts at an MA15+ rating, but the ACB banned it when the developers attempted to release a physical copy of the game for retail. The reason for this had nothing to do with violence, but rather the fact that cannabis is used in-game as a healing item.

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The Australian Classification Board
The Australian Classification Board Members - Credit: classification.gov.au

In Australia, adults can purchase Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 Reservoir Dogs with no trouble whatsoever. However, they can’t purchase the 2006 video game of Reservoir Dogs, which follows the plot of the movie exactly. According to the Australian Classification Board, the video game is banned “because of high impact violence and torture,” while the movie itself is not banned for the same reason. This is only one example of the major issues Australia has when classifying and banning video games.

It was only 2013 when Australia finally implemented an 18+ video game rating. Prior to then, they didn’t have such a rating at all. But even with the introduction of an adult only rating system, the ACB continues to pick out particular games and ban them from the country, often for ridiculous reasons. Just in the past three months, four different video games were refused classification due to alleged breaches of government established guidelines.

The most notable game within these four is DayZ, the zombie survival game. Ironically, the game was available on digital storefronts at an MA15+ rating, but the ACB banned it when the developers attempted to release a physical copy of the game for retail. The reason for this had nothing to do with violence, but rather the fact that cannabis is used in-game as a healing item. According to the Australian Classification Board, “interactive illicit or prescribed drug use is not permitted”. See below for the media statement released by the AGC.

Liberal Democrat MP Tim Quilty was quick to criticize the decision, calling it absurd and labeling Australia as “the wet blanket and laughing stock of the whole world”.

Since then, DayZ was approved for a physical retail release, but only after the game developers modified the game to remove cannabis from it.

The action-adventure game We Happy Few is another title to have serious issues getting classified in Australia, as it has been refused for classification twice. It was originally banned in 2018 due to drug use related to incentives and rewards, but this was overturned by the Classification Review Board when the game developers successfully argued that the overall point of the game was actually to avoid the use of such drugs. However, the game was banned again when its Lightbearer DLC came out, because it had drug related infringing content.

The issue with all of this is that violence, drugs, and nudity are perfectly acceptable in film, TV, and music, but for some reason video games are not easily allowed to depict the same things, despite the existence of a mature 18+ rating. Some argue that the reason this is different is because individuals actually have to participate in these questionable acts when playing a video game. The argument has been refuted by many different studies, but is continually made regardless.

On top of that, there’s a $10,000 fee for developers and publishers to challenge a ban enforced in Australia, which is extremely unfair to said groups. While it’s unlikely that these rules are going to change anytime soon, it does bring the argument of video game bans to light within other countries.

Here is the media statement released by the AGC regarding the classification of DayZ:

“Media statement—classification history of the game Dayz
13 August 2019

Dayz is a survival computer game set in the fictional post-Soviet Republic of Chernarus, where a mysterious plague has turned most of the population into zombies. The game is set in 1st and 3rd person where, as a survivor, the player must scavenge the land for food, water, weapons and medicine while killing or avoiding the “infected”.

Dayz was initially put through the IARC (International Age Rating Coalition) Tool (the IARC Tool). A computer game developer answers an online questionnaire and the IARC Tool generates a rating and consumer advice which is consistent with current Australian classification guidelines. Based on the information provided by Bohemia Interactive in relation to drug use when completing the IARC questionnaire, the IARC Tool generated an MA 15+ classification with consumer advice of ‘Strong violence, online interactivity’ for the digital version of Dayz. The IARC Tool produces classifications for digitally delivered games for Australia.

When Five Star Games Pty Ltd applied to the Classification Board for a classification for an upcoming PlayStation 4 release of the game in Australia, they advised that drug use in the game included cannabis. The aim of Dayz is to stay alive and healthy during the conditions of the outbreak and the player’s health is measured by vital statistics. Throughout general gameplay, the player is able to collect and use a variety of equipment, supplies and weaponry, with one option to restore the player’s health being a marijuana joint, labelled “cannabis,” which is denoted by a cannabis bud in the player’s inventory. The player is able to select and use it when their vital statistics are low. When the player smokes the cannabis, their vital statistics of food and water increase and their temperature decreases.

Therefore, in the opinion of the Classification Board, cannabis use during the game acts as an incentive or reward to boost overall health and survivability. The Board noted that there was no instance of intoxication resulting from this drug use depicted within the game.

The Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games 2012 (the Games Guidelines) state “interactive illicit or proscribed drug use is not permitted” within the G, PG, M or MA 15+ classification. The Guidelines further state, “drug use is permitted” within the R 18+ classification, provided any “interactive illicit or proscribed drug use” is not “detailed or realistic”. Pursuant to the Games Guidelines, “drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted” at any classification level.

Accordingly, on 4 June 2019, the Classification Board had to classify the computer game, Dayz, RC (Refused Classification). The RC category is commonly referred to as being ‘banned’. This means that the game cannot be sold, hired, advertised, or legally imported into Australia. The IARC Tool classification has been updated to RC (Refused Classification).
The Board noted that if the use of cannabis within the context of this game did not act as an incentive or reward, its impact could have been accommodated within the R 18+ classification.

Classification Board 13 August 2019

Locked Bag 3, Haymarket NSW 1240 Telephone 02 92897100 www.classification.gov.au
Further, if this instance of drug use was absent from the game, then Dayz would be able to be accommodated within the MA 15+ classification.

On 28 June 2019, the Council of Attorneys-General agreed that the Australian Government will coordinate a public consultation process on reviewing the Games Guidelines to ensure they reflect contemporary Australian community values. The review will be undertaken by the Department of Communications and the Arts.

Margaret Anderson
Director
Classification Board”